‘Para sa seniors’
Much has been said about San Beda’s deep bench and reliable young guns. In the middle of the second round, sophomore Radge Tongco talked about what motivates the younger players.
“Gusto naming ipanalo ‘yung championship para sa seniors,” said Tongco, who is being mentored by graduating point guard Baser Amer. “Para maganda ‘yung maiiwan nilang legacy sa pag-graduate.”
Mythical Five awardee Art Dela Cruz is aware of what’s at stake. “Ayoko sana masayang ito. Every game counts para sa amin, especially the seniors,” he told ABS-CBN Sports at the start of the season. “'Yun din, kinukuha din namin 'yung six-peat. History na 'yung hinahabol namin this time.”
Meanwhile, Coach Jamike Jarin has praised the selflessness of the senior Red Lions. When they beat the JRU Heavy Bombers to clinch their finals spot, the fourth quarter saw the starters seated and cheering from the bench.
The best thing about being a rookie with the Red Lions, says AC Soberano, is that you don’t feel like a rookie at all. “Pantay ‘yung pagtingin ni [Coach Jamike] sa first group hanggang sa second o third group,” he says. “Hindi rookies ang tingin sa amin.”
This attitude extends to closeness among the players. Soberano, who shares a dorm with Donald Tankoua, Dan Sara and Ola Adeogun, says: “Kunwari may hindi magandang nangyari sa game, si Ola ang nagsasabi sa akin, ‘wag kang ma-down.’ Malaking bagay ‘yun.”
‘We have to win it’
It’s not easy being a Red Lion. On one hand, you have the pressure from supporters who believe that if you could win five titles in a row, a sixth is but natural. On the other hand, it’s easy to for detractors to root against a dominant team. “Maiba naman,” I’ve heard some say.
In either case, simplifying San Beda’s journey like that glosses over the struggles that the current team had to endure to get to the finals—and the work they put in to overcome it.
“[Finals experience] is huge,” admitted Jarin. “But [getting the championship] is never automatic. We need to earn it.”
“We build a team composed of a family,” Jarin said during one team practice—something he repeated in the dugout before Finals Game 1. “Everyone takes care of each other.”
“Letran is going to come at us with all they have. We have to win it.”